William Bennett had this op-ed this morning in the WSJ. I know there is a lot of anxiety about the common core educational standards. So this is a educational expert, who is also Catholic, with a different take.

As for me, the only part of it I have looked at personally was the math, and it seemed quite good.

Check out the Eagle Forum on Common Core as well as the Women of Grace shows
about 2-3 weeks ago where they had a very knowledgeable guest who knew quite a lot
of the in’s and out’s of the program. Bottom line, we have a lot to lose in our education
programs (especially a lot of Catholic schools who have excellent programs already.)
Generally I see it as a dumbing down over all, a one-size-fits all approach.
One of my daughter wrote a program that was implemented in a certain state under the
No Child Left Behind. Mr. Bennett approached her to write one for his program. She
declined that and other offers because most wanted to eliminate a part she considered
most important: The ability for the child to progress as far as he/she wanted. Her’s was a
program designed for the public school “at home” studies. Prior to it, children were being
bused and spent 3 hrs a day on buses.
Mr. Bennett’s program was not opposed to the child progressing as much as most of the
others, but would have required a lot of travel and promoting the program nationally which
she did not want to do.
Common Core takes the decision out of the control of the locals and that is a huge problem.

One part that appalled me is that handwriting is being eliminated in schools. One huge
drawback with this, students will not be able to read original resources for, say, the
Constitution, etc.

95% of the complaints I have heard about common core are not about the math. Math is a lot harder to mess up or to inject personal bias into.

I’m inclined to agree with him, though. It has been heavily politicized and there is a lot of misinformation about what it contains and what it’s purpose is. I don’t think it’s quite a “sky is falling” type of thing as it is sometimes made out to be. Though I don’t doubt it could easily veer in that direction if the federal government tries to exert more control over it.

As a teacher and a conservative, there are a lot of good things in Common Core. I find promising the math standards, and the reading standards are bringing a number of forgotten things back, such as an emphasis on grammar and conventions.

Typically, the issue is in Social Studies, where the general focus is away from knowledge and a move toward “concepts”. And the tilt tends to be a bit left.

A greater issue is the text books, which often read the standards their own way, and administrators at many levels who believe that the only way to teach the Common Core is through progressive methods. And there resides the real problem; that the Departments of Education at the state and federal levels push methods that simply do not work, because they fit their philosophical and political POV.

The Dept of Education was established by Pres. Jimmy Carter. Wikipedia has a chart of its bureaucratic structure. It has attempted several national programs, the latest being “no child left behind” and now, Common Core.

Has education improved since the establishment of this cabinet level department. No. Were school districts able to educate students in the years before the Dept of Ed? Yes, somehow they managed it.

Now this is a different issue. The US Constitution mandates no powers to the federal government. None. Any interference by the federal government is, at best, extra-constitutional. And I believe it is true that Common Core is being used by the current regime, which has shown no regard for the Constitution in any matter, to further federalize public education.

And the truth is, federal spending has in no way improved education in this country. And that’s because they push progressive teaching methods that have never worked.

Federal law prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from “exercis[ing] any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction” or selection of “instruction[al] materials.” However, the Department circumvented these prohibitions by making Race to the Top funding and No Child Left Behind waivers contingent on a state’s adoption of the Common Core and the aligned assessments. Because curriculum must be aligned with standards and assessments, the Department would thus be able to exercise direction and control over curricula, programs of instruction, instructional materials.

I’ve read that the Common Core math standards fail to meet the content targets recommended by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, the standards of leading states, and our international competitors. They exclude certain Algebra 2 and Geometry content that is currently a prerequisite at almost every four-year state college, essentially re-defining “college readiness” to mean readiness for a non-selective community college. They abandon the expectation that students take Algebra 1 in eighth grade. (This expectation is based upon what high-performing countries expect of their students, and has pushed about half of America’s students to take Algebra 1 by eighth grade). The Common Core math standards also require that geometry be taught by an experimental method that had never been used successfully anywhere in the world. The Common Core math standards do not teach least common denominators; delay until sixth grade fluency in division; eliminate conversions between fractions, decimals and percents; adopt a new definition of algebra as “functional algebra” that de-emphasizes algebraic manipulation.

You may want to check out Article 1 Section 8 again, particularly the Coefficient Clause:

To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.

And then you have Article II: The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.

The power of the federal government is limited to that which has been delegated to them by the states, as delineated in the Constitution. The federal government has usurped an unbelievable amount of power without a doubt. As an appropriate example, there has been no delegation of authority to the federal government for education whatsoever (outside of the District of Columbia)

But to say that the government has no powers mandated in the Constitution?

Doesn’t it basically eliminate the study of literature? And what happens with history? This is the last thing we need. We need to go back to a traditional liberal “classical” education. We’ve got people everywhere who can’t critically think and have no sense of common humanity.

The big problem with common core math is that it is taught vastly different then the way math is taught in college. College students already struggle with math as it is, trust me. I tutor a lot of college students with math and they struggle. What is going to happen is these kids that are being taught math the common core way are going to be woefully unprepared for college math. Even more so then current college students are now.

In my opinion, the way math is taught in K-12 was bad before common core and it is much worse with common core.

We really need to overhaul how we teach math to K-12 students. We spend too much time on solving problems and not enough time on the theory, on the why. Upper level math classes at university have been some of the most interesting classes I have taken and that is because that is when you get into the theory, the why, of math. In my opinion, proofs need to be more prevalent in K-12 math. That is how you teach kids critical thinking, logic, reasoning, deduction, etc.

From my experience with tutoring, it is my opinion that people struggle with math because they don’t know the why, they are only taught the how.

As a teacher with degrees in maths and science I completely agree with you. The ‘why’ is very important in maths. The only bit I would add though is that if some students are struggling with the ‘why’, they should at least be able to do the ‘how’ until the ‘why’ is understood/discovered.

One problem I have with common curriculums is that I fear progressive teaching philosophies can be promulgated through them much more widely. Such philosophies I believe are more interested in a failed social engineering than children’s intellectual and emotional development.

Another advantage of different systems is that it should be more likely to identify the changing teaching pedagogies and curriculums that are working rather than the possibility of everybody going down together in a sinking ship.

I have to disagree with you here. Most students in K-12 and college don’t struggle with the why, they struggle with the how. The why is not in K-12 or lower level college math. Students are taught to solve problems, that’s it. In my opinion, if we taught them the why, then the how would be easier for them to grasp.

The first thing we should teach students in math is set theory. Everything else is dependent on that. Plus, set theory is great at teaching logic and reasoning. Furthermore, it sets students up for a rigorous definition of what math is. In K-12, kids are taught how to add and multiply but aren’t taught why they are allowed to do that with real numbers. What is addition? What is multiplication? Furthermore, it bothers me kids are taught subtraction and division when these operations do not really exist and they are not as nice when it comes to laws such as commutativity and the like. Students should not be taught subtraction and division in my opinion.

I have actually had professors who would actually not allow you to use subtraction or division.

They are taught all these laws, such as commutativity, transitivity, etc., but aren’t taught why they apply to the real numbers. Most people don’t have a clue that those laws and operations do not apply to all objects, until they take an upper level math course, such as linear algebra.

Actually, I am not kidding. I was very skeptical and had read all of what you and others are claiming. Since math is the one are where I am fairly well educated, I decided to go through the math standards. Here is the text of the math standards. corestandards.org/wp-content/uploads/Math_Standards.pdf

Lets use grade 8 as an example: A previous poster stated that grade 8 is not Algebra 1, and that is true. What is common now is for kids who are good in math in grade 8 take algebra 1, while the others do not have much algebra at all in grade 8. Common core provides a minimum set of functionality for all students, it does not preclude advanced courses for smarter kids.
If we look at grade 8, we find that it is indeed not all of algebra 1, but it includes very important parts of algebra for all students. For example: it includes solving linear equations and pairs of linear equations of 2 variables.

You want more proofs: grade 8 requires that all kids be able to prove the Pythagorean Theorem and its converse. This is a step up, not a step down in basic math taught to eight graders. I do not remember any of my eigth grade kids having to prove the Pythagorean Theorem.

It is my gut feeling, after having read the math standards is that the common core is an attempt to do what you say is needed. Read the standards and tell me that I am wrong.

I have had 2 kids who had completed the first two semesters of Calculus before their first semester of engineering school. Is there calculus in in the high school standards? no. But that does not mean that high schools cannot teach calc I and calc ii.

Again, I have not read the other common core standards, and I am naturally afraid of any top-down education standard. But, at least with math, I find little fault with them. Hence I found Bill Bennett’s editorial interesting. Bennett, who I admire a lot, seems to be saying what has started to be my gut feeling: namely, common core is not all a bad thing, and perhaps conservatives are taking the complete wrong approach in dealing with it.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.